Poet, songwriter, filmmaker and playwright Haim Hefer was buried on Wednesday at
the Ein Hod Artists’ Village in accordance with his wishes.
He had been
seriously ill for quite some time, and although his death on Tuesday was not
entirely unexpected, when it finally happened, it came as a shock to his friends
among the Palmah veterans, the entertainment industry and the nation at
The Polish-born Hefer, who spent more than a third of his lifetime
in Tel Aviv, divided his time in recent years between there and Ein
Hod. Though known primarily for his prolific output of songs and poems,
he had also been involved in illegal immigration, and in his youth had smuggled
Jews out of Syria. Later Yigal Allon, one of his Palmah commanders – who had
since become a politician – sent him as a cultural emissary to Los Angeles, from
whence he returned with the founding residents of Karmiel. During his Palmah
days, he had also been a kibbutznik, and his Palmah superiors had sent him to
Prior to his funeral at Ein Hod, Hefer’s coffin lay in
state at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv, where he was eulogized both on and off
stage and where the general public, many public figures – especially from the
entertainment industry – and veteran Palmahniks who had been his comrades in
arms paid their last respects. Some were also among the crowd that thronged to
No government representative attended the funeral. Among
those present at one or both places were Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai; Ya’acov
Mendel, head of EMI (the Hebrew acronym for the Union of Israeli Artists);
singer Yehoram Gaon; actors Chaim Topol, Shlomo Vishinsky and Sasson Gabai;
composer Nahum Heiman; filmmaker Menachem Golan; actresses Gila Almagor and
Rivka Michaeli; directors Naomi Polani and Ya’acov Agmon; comedian Tuvia Tsafir;
lyricist Yoran Taharlev; Palmah comrades, including novelist Yoram Kaniuk,
industrialist Stef Wertheimer, and poet, novelist, journalist and documentary
filmmaker Haim Gouri; and Hefer’s daughter Mimi and her children.
Hefer’s passing, statements on the nation’s loss came from President Shimon
Peres, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat,
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, among
others. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a private message of condolence
to the family.
Rivlin wanted to attend the funeral but had a prior
commitment to be at a parliamentary conference in Strasburg.
He sent a
message saying that Hefer was not just the king of the country – he was the
Rivlin recalled having grown up on Hefer’s
Vishinsky, who signed his first contract ever with Hefer, said
that he had viewed him as a father figure.
Heiman declared that “Haim
Hefer’s songs tell the story of who we are or what we wanted to
Michaeli nostalgically related that Hefer had written a song
especially for her after their first meeting. She had been 26 years old at the
time, and he had written “A Girl of 26.”
Golan compared Hefer to literary
giants such as Avraham Shlonski and Natan Alterman and said that he was able to
capture in a few words the most significant events of our times.
said that it was impossible to think about the Palmah without thinking about
Hefer, while Polani, who worked with Hefer in the Palmah’s Chizbatron
entertainment troupe, emphasized that it was not just the writer who should be
remembered, but the man himself for his many unique qualities.
his eyes at such a difficult period for us, so that he would not see what is
lying in store for us,” opined Almagor.
The impact that Hefer and fellow
Polish immigrant Dahn Ben-Amotz had on the culture of the nascent state is
perhaps apparent in the fact that most Israeli newspapers ran front-page and
inside stories about Hefer, and his songs played for much of Tuesday night and
Wednesday morning on the radio.
Both Hefer and Ben-Amotz came to Israel
in the 1930s bearing Yiddish surnames. Hefer changed his name from Feiner, which
translates as “finer” or “better.” The two, who worked in partnership for some
time and were the leading lights of the country’s bohemian community, came to
symbolize the essence of being a sabra. Both were pedantic about the Hebrew
language. Ben- Amotz – together with yet another ex-Palmahnik, Netiva Ben-Yehuda
– wrote a dictionary of Hebrew slang, while Hefer kept introducing new words and
expressions into the language.
All three served in the Palmah, along with
Wertheimer, who has devoted his energies to the development of the Galilee and
Wertheimer first met Hefer in the Palmah, where the latter was
forming the Chizbatron and Wertheimer was busy putting together
The two were billeted in rooms next door to each other, and
each was curious about what the other was doing. That curiosity developed into
camaraderie and led not only to a lifelong friendship, but also to several joint
projects. The two were on the same page in their political outlooks and in their
belief that everyone must be given the educational tools both to improve the
quality of their lives and to make a significant contribution to the
Hefer’s own contribution is plain.
Generations of Israelis
have sung and continue to sing his songs, many of which are steeped in the
history of the Palmah. Some carry a universal message, while others are
permanent reminders of the once-ideological Israeli, who lived by the motto of
US President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but
what you can do for your country.”
Hefer was constantly troubled by the
fragmentation and lack of harmony between the different sectors in the country’s
social mosaic, particularly on issues of religious coercion.
likely have preferred to see more unity and less dissonance.
eulogizing Hefer at Ein Hod, Wertheimer noted that there used to be two Haims
among the wellknown Palmah veterans, and now there was one. He said it had been
his good fortune to be Hefer’s friend.
They used to meet every Friday for
coffee. After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, another leader in the Palmah,
they had realized that a great change had taken place and that there was no one
to lead them anymore.
After that, Hefer, working with composer Yoni
Rechter, had written a song with the message, “Don’t wait for the Messiah. He’s
not coming. You are the Messiah. Go to work.”
Gouri also spoke of
his long and close relationship with Hefer. Gouri joined the Palmah in 1941,
Hefer in 1943, and they had been friends ever since.
“Few people could
achieve what he achieved,” said Gouri, who also alluded to Hefer’s integrity,
saying he had never hidden his opinions behind diplomatic niceties – a
characteristic for which, according to Gouri, “he paid a heavy
Hefer’s daughter described him as the most loving, caring and
involved father and grandfather that anyone could wish to have. “It is
impossible to describe the enormity of our loss,” she said.
Hefer’s songs were played at the funeral, including the Palmah anthem, for which
he wrote the lyrics.